Born on April 3, 1942, Wayne Newton started singing professionally as a child. In his teenage years, he performed with his older brother. Newton became a solo performer in the early 1960s and scored such hits as "Danke Schoen" and "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." For the next several decades, Newton established himself as one of Las Vegas's most popular and highest-paid performers.
Wayne Newton spent much of his childhood in Virginia. His father worked as a mechanic and his mother stayed home to raise their two children. Both of his parents had Native American roots—Cherokee on his mother's side and Powahatan on his father's side.
Newton started his professional singing career at the age of six. He first found inspiration for his lifelong occupation after watching Kitty Wells and Hank Williams perform. Before long, Newton and his older brother Jerry toured in a Grand Ole Opry traveling show. He also performed his own daily radio station on a local station. A gifted musician as well, Newton taught himself to play several instruments, including piano, banjo and guitar.
Plagued by asthma, a ten-year-old Newton moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, because the climate there was better for his health. He continued to perform in his new city, making appearances on a local television station. Newton even had his own program for a time. During his junior year of high school, he landed a gig in Las Vegas, playing at the Fremont Hotel & Casino with his brother Jerry. Initially hired for two weeks, the Newton brothers performed there for nearly a year. He had also landed appearances on The Jackie Gleason Show and even served as an opening act for Jack Benny. Audiences really seemed to take to the baby-faced singer with a soprano voice.
In 1962, singer Bobby Darin took Newton under his wing and helped him launch his solo career. Newton made it into the Top 20 with "Danke Schoen" the following year. In 1965, Newton hit the charts with another up-tempo ballad "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." And his last major single came in 1972 with "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast." By this time, he had grown his trademark pencil-thin moustache, jazzed up his on-stage look and shifted his vocal range a bit lower.
While he later dropped off the charts, Newton enjoyed great success as an entertainer. He continued to perform in Las Vegas and to make guest appearances on television variety shows. For a time, Newton was the highest-paid act in Las Vegas. He remains a popular concert performer, playing gigs around the country. A supporter of the U.S. military, Newton has participated in numerous USO tours to entertain the troops.
In the early 1980s, NBC News reports ran several news reports on Newton, claiming that Newton had ties to organized crime. It was also reported that Newton had become a part owner of the Aladdin hotel and casino with funds from the mob. He was also allegedly an associate of two members of the Gambino crime family.
Newton sued the news network for libel, claiming the reports were false and had damaged his reputation and his business. In 1986, Newton won a $19 million settlement (which later reduced to over $5 million) in the case. A federal appeals court, however, overturned the ruling in 1990, and Newton tried to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court rejected Newton's appeal the following year.
In 1992, Newton experienced another legal challenge. He ended up declaring bankruptcy, claiming to have $20 million in debt. Later in the decade, Newton also engaged in a legal battle with singer Tony Orlando over a theater in Branson, Missouri, that the pair once shared.
Television and Film Work
For the part, Newton has often been asked to play himself, the quintessential cabaret performer, on television and in films. Sometimes, however, he has been able to take on a different role. On the big screen, Newton played an evangelist in the 1989 James Bond film License to Kill starring Timothy Dalton. He also appeared in comic Andrew Dice Clay's The Adventures of Ford Fairlane the following year. Also that year, Newton's first major hit, "Danke Schoen," enjoyed some renewed popularity. Actor Matthew Broderick lip-synched the song during a scene in the hit comedy Ferris Bueller.
More recently, Newton has tackled the world of reality television. He launched his own reality competition, The Entertainer, in 2005, to find the next great Las Vegas act. Two years later, Newton showed off his moves on Dancing with the Stars, competing against the likes of actress Jane Seymour and singer Marie Osmond. He experienced some heart problems around the time he appeared on the show and curtail his activities for health reasons for a time.
Newton lives in Las Vegas with his second wife Kathleen and their daughter Lauren. He has a daughter named Erin from his first marriage to Elaine Okamura.
Set on more than 50 acres, Newton's lavish home, Casa de Shenandoah, is expected to be open to the public beginning in 2012. There visitors can view his collection of mementos and tour the grounds. Newton has been raising Arabian horses there for decades.
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